What does an engaged Board look like? How do you know if you have an engaged Board? How do you recruit an engaged Board? How do you keep an engaged board?
An engaged board is one whose members are advocates, involved, and contribute financially. These board members believe in the organization's mission and are willing to give their time, talent, and treasure. An engaged board always acts with the mission of the organization in mind and with the organization's best interest. Members come to board meetings prepared and ready to discuss the issues at hand. Members are good financial stewards of the organization's resources and are mindful of their fiduciary duties. Engaged board members work in tandem with the leadership of the organization, helping to set policy and understand the lines between governance and management. Engaged board members are not micro-managers!
Having an engaged board starts with strategic cultivation and recruitment. Cultivation starts long-before there are open positions on a board. Cultivation starts with putting together a board matrix to be clear about what skills and interests will best support the needs of the organization. Cultivation includes not only looking for people with skills and interest, but they should also have a passion and commitment for the mission and work of the organization.
Board recruitment also needs to be deliberate and intentional. It should be coupled with transparency. Determine who fits best in alignment with the needs outlined on the matrix and also who is best to connect with that potential board candidate. Whoever connects with the potential candidate should be well informed about board member expectations and should be willing to share these. Engaged board members want to be on your board, want to serve on committees, want to contribute financially, and want to be good ambassadors for the organization. Why would you want someone to serve on your board if they aren't willing to actively participate? Gone are the days when you want "names on your letterhead" or someone on your board who has to be "arm-twisted" to be there?
Getting to an engaged board takes time and work. Keeping an engaged board is also hard work. Once you recruit folks on the board, make sure there is planned orientation and sharing of materials. There should be on-going board education throughout the year including an annual board retreat. Board attendance and committee involvement should be monitored and dealt with. If someone isn't showing up for meetings, has anyone checked with them to see why? Is it due to a lack of interest, a change in their work or personal life, another reason? A call to check in should be made so that the board member knows that his or her absence is noticed and that their participation is needed. Annual board evaluation is also important to determine levels of engagement, participation, and what needs to change, if anything.
An engaged board will pay off for the organization. It will lead to a productive organization, a financially successful organization, and an organization that is effectively impacting the community it is serving.